The LSU men’s basketball team’s roller-coaster season came to an abrupt end Sunday.
Despite entering the season with rather lofty expectations — including a top-25 preseason ranking — LSU didn’t make the 68-team NCAA tournament field when it was announced Sunday, which was no surprise.
In a bit of a surprise, shortly after the NCAA field was revealed, coach Johnny Jones said in a university news release that his team would not participate in any postseason tournament this year.
After a devastating 71-38 loss to Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals Saturday in Nashville, Tennessee, Jones said he would be in favor of accepting an National Invitation Tournament bid, if one were extended.
After announcing its 32-team field Sunday night, NIT committee chairman Reggie Minton said LSU was on its board as a possible participant until late Sunday afternoon.
“They were definitely under consideration, and we get documents from all the schools we are considering to play,” Minton said. “They were on our board, and we didn’t learn until late this afternoon that they weren’t going to play.
“I’ll just leave it there; that was their decision,” he said. “They were definitely under consideration — no doubt about that.”
In the news release, Jones said he consulted with his staff and met with the team earlier Sunday, deciding the program would be better served by moving on quickly from a 19-14 season that began with such high hopes — mainly because of the presence of the nation’s top recruit, forward Ben Simmons.
“We will be able to utilize this time to get better and start preparations for next season,” Jones said in the statement. “We fell short of the mark of getting to the NCAA tournament. I take full responsibility for this team, and will do the things necessary to make sure we are able to reach one of our main goals at LSU in the future.”
That future likely will not include Simmons, who was widely heralded as the probable top pick in the 2016 NBA draft before he even stepped on campus in June.
Simmons played in all 33 games with 32 starts and led LSU in five statistical categories, averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.8 blocks.
Still, LSU struggled to play with any kind of consistency most of the season, even though the Tigers were 9-3 and led the league as late as Feb. 13 before dropping four of their final six conference games.
LSU ended the season the way it started: without senior guard Keith Hornsby, one of the mainstays from a team that went 22-11 last season and played in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
Hornsby had surgery for a sports hernia injury Nov. 3, just 10 days before the season opener, and was sidelined for the first seven games before returning in mid-December.
But in a Feb. 20 game at Tennessee, Hornsby aggravated the injury and last Tuesday had another surgical procedure after missing the final four regular-season games — ending his season and his college career.
Also, freshman guard Antonio Blakeney, like Simmons a five-star recruit and a McDonald’s All-American, was ill for LSU’s two SEC tournament games and would have been questionable at best for a midweek NIT game.
“(Hornsby’s and Blakeney’s absence) also factored into our decision,” said Jones, who is expected to hold his season-ending news conference Tuesday. “But it is primarily my responsibility to begin working and preparing our players for the prospects that lie ahead.”
LSU, which mathematically had a chance to play for a share of the SEC’s regular-season title on the final day of the season, finished in a tie for third place with an 11-7 record and was the No. 4 seed for the league tournament.
But a 7-6 record in nonconference play, coupled with their 2-4 mark down the stretch, meant the Tigers had to win the SEC tournament to make it back to the NCAA tournament.
After outlasting Tennessee in the quarterfinals Friday to keep its slim NCAA hopes alive, LSU sealed its fate by shooting just 20.6 percent in an unsightly loss to Texas A&M.
The SEC had four teams — South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama — accept NIT bids after the league took just three spots in the 68-team NCAA tournament field.
Texas A&M, which dropped an 82-77 overtime decision to Kentucky in the SEC title game Sunday, is a No. 3 seed. Kentucky is a No. 4 seed, and Vanderbilt will play in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, to try to earn a spot on the main bracket as a No. 11 seed.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.